MENTAL HEALTH A-Z: D is for Dermatillomania

The word Dermatillomania derives from the Latin language; Derma meaning ‘skin’, tillo meaning ‘to pull’, and mania meaning ‘madness’ or, well, ‘mania’.

Also known as Compulsive Skin Picking Disorder, this disorder comes under the Body Focussed Repetitive Behaviour (BFRB) category of mental health disorders. It adopts the same ‘anxiety cycle’ as OCD and other Anxiety Disorders. For this particular disorder, the anxiety in your body manifests itself by pulling or picking at your skin.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The majority of us bite our nails, pick at that occasional spot we get or scratch at that scab we got on our knee last Saturday night after we drunkenly fall over. The point where these habits become a disorder is when these small, mundane actions become compulsions. These compulsions can either be conscious or subconscious, but the thing that separates them from being small and mundane is the degree of anxiety, shame and guilt you can feel.

Personally, my dermatillomania was born out of my Body Dysmorphic Disorder (See the piece B is for Body Dysmorphic Disorder:, so for me it’s more of a bonus illness – you know, not the one that consumes my life but just one that makes every morning and evening a bit more intense and unbearable than it would be usually? Don’t get me wrong, I still spend every second of every day destroying my finger nail and the skin around it, and I will get burning desires to scratch the skin of my face until it bleeds each morning and night , and I’ll even cause a load of destruction throughout the day subconsciously. The worst thing is, I know that there are people out there who have it a lot worse. With a handsome amount of foundation and pressed powder, my scabs and scars can be disguised – some people aren’t so lucky and will have scabs and scars all over other parts of their body too.

According to the NHS website “it is an impulse-control disorder – a psychological condition where the person is unable to stop themselves carrying out a particular action.”

Heavy emphasis goes on the word unable. Unfortunately, it isn’t something you can just turn off. Despite the inability to stop hurting myself, I do not like blood and I do not like pain, thus if I could stop then I would. If I could avoid the feelings of guilt and shame after I’ve caused a mess, then I would.

Like all other anxiety disorders, it shouldn’t be the action that’s important. Whether you’re compelled to wash your hands, check you’ve turned off your toaster or pick at your skin, it’s still the ‘anxiety cycle’ coming into play, and if you’ve ever experienced anxiety you’ll know that this is no trivial matter. That’s why it’s so upsetting to hear phrases such as “oh they have a name for anything nowadays!” and other phrases which stigmatise mental illness further.

For more information on dermatillomania and ways in which it can be treated, visit the NHS Choices website:

Hannah Lewis

[Image: Bethany Jane]

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